Dead Best: 7 Smoking Versions of “Shakedown Street”

by Peter Wendel
We value your input so please make comments at the end of this post.

ShakedownStreetDebut: August 31, 1978
Total Times Played: 160+
Last Time Played: July 9, 1995
Songwriter(s): Garcia & Hunter

The big bomb-drop opening of “Shakedown Street” hits with the power of a lightning strike – shooting jolts of white-hot electricity through the crowd. You could literally feel it in your bones – a full-body experience if ever there was one.

DoDahManGDWhen The Dead opened the 2nd set with “Shakedown,” you knew things were about to get a little wilder and stranger. Hold on tight! Performances could take 20 minutes to fully unwind, producing some of the band’s nastiest, funkiest jams on record.

A Garcia-Hunter collaboration about the causes of inner-city urban decay (e.g., drugs), “Shakedown Street” represents the “disco” Dead at their very finest. Here are some of the band’s hottest performances.

September 16, 1978
Gizah Sound & Light Theatre, Cairo, Egypt

Super-clean, jazzed-up version for the pharaohs. Although it may not go as deep into the groove as many of the top performances, it is without doubt, as unique as it is flawless. Like many song performances from the Egypt run, this version is slo-mo and it gets good and gooey during the jams. The show – complete with a lunar eclipse – was performed just two weeks after the “Shakedown” debut on August 31, 1978, at Red Rocks in Morrison, CO.

October 25, 1979

New Haven Coliseum, New Haven, CT

BOOOOM! Welcome to FUNK HEAVEN!! There’s nothing quite like the bomb-drop opening of “Shakedown,” and this version is a stellar example of that explosive entry. This is a must-hear barnburner from New Haven – a top-5 all-time performance for sure. The band slides right into the slot with Phil dropping bombs all over the damn place. Jerry’s voice is clean and crisp, and the backup vocals are particularly well sung (which wasn’t always the case).

November 29, 1980
Alligator Alley Gym, Gainsville, FL

MUST-HEAR VERSION!! Funky goodness for the Gators!! The band cooks all the way through, and Jerry’s vocals have a little something extra. You won’t hear a hotter, more inspired round-robin segment (6:00) – featuring a rotation of Jerry, Bobby and Brent singing “you just gotta poke around.” Once again, the call-and-response exchanges between Jerry and Brent amount to improvisational genius.

April 6, 1982
The Spectrum, Philadelphia, PA

EPIC 2nd set opener!! One of the greatest “Shakedown” performances of all time with the legendary chemistry and interplay between Jerry and Brent on full display. They are over-the-rainbow good. If you’re a true-blue Mydland fan, you’ll love this. Maybe the dark is from your eyes…

August 3, 1982
Starlight Theatre, Kansas City, MO

OFF THE CHAIN!! This version is seriously underrated – listen and believe. The Philly “Shakedown” (above) performed in April (of the same year) steals some of the thunder, but this one definitely deserves more credit than it gets. The band is firing on all cylinders, and the exchanges between Brent and Jerry take the jam to another level. More mind-melting moments brought to you by The Grateful Dead. Listen here (archived track 12).

December 31, 1984
San Francisco Civic Center, San Francisco, CA

MONSTER FUNK, on New Year’s Eve no less! Here we have a 17-minute SHOW-OPENER packed with X-factor. The band gets deep down in a funked-up groove, and it’s off to the races. This one was released on So Many Roads (1965-1995) so you know it’s gotta be good. Maybe you had too much too fast…

June 30, 1985
Merriweather Post Pavilion, Columbia, MD

WOWWW! The only way this version isn’t in your top-10 (or even top-5), is if you haven’t heard it yet. Jerry gets his funk on and goes balls out. Tasty, tasty jams with a massive buildup. By the close, the Post Pavilion is in flames.

Peter Wendel is a journalist and PR consultant. He's attended hundreds of concerts and festivals, including the Peach, Mountain Jam, the All Good and Lockn'. He's ridden legendary Grateful Dead runs from Ventura County Fairgrounds to Irvine Meadows (CA) from the Nassau Coliseum (NY) to the Boston Garden (MA). Peter is a former U.S. Marine who – after running into trouble with every last one of his commanding officers – received an honorable discharge and a direct order never to return. Born in California and raised in New Jersey, Peter lived in Boston and Joshua Tree (CA) before settling in the nation's capital. Find him on tour at